AMAZING KIDS: Meet the teen hero championing diversity and inclusion in Oregon City

(OREGON CITY) — Gavin Blackwell thinks that everyone should act like a superhero. The Oregon City High School freshman is the youth member of Oregon City’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force, where he hopes to make young voices heard.

“When I was a very little kid, me and my dad would always watch the superhero movie releases, and we’d always read comics. I think that a lot of comics have inspired my art, and also my overall vibe, and overall mindset of trying to just help people and understand people,” said Blackwell.

This “superhero mindset” helps Blackwell stand out among volunteers as a particularly strong listener.

“I think that a lot of times, in my opinion, people might listen to something they might not like, and they might hear you, but they may not understand you. I think that a lot of times, I will say something, and people might hear it and not realize what it means,” he said.

Blackwell used cyberbullying as an example. It’s not that adults don’t know that it’s happening; it’s simply that they can’t understand how much social media permeates a teenager’s life and that “blocking or deleting” won’t stop the problem.

“I think cyberbullying is the newest version of normal bullying,” Blackwell said. “I feel like because social media is just so foreign to them, they don’t understand what is being said.”

Blackwell said that the DEI Task Force often had ideas for events that were more “informational” than engaging. In his opinion, it is important to engage students in a way that doesn’t remind them of school.

“Youth don’t really want to sit down and listen to a talk,” said Blackwell. “Kids already do a lot of sitting down and listening, and most of the time, they don’t like that. So, have food and entertainment. If you make it fun to be at, you will get a lot more kids there and parents.”

When he was eleven years old, his enthusiasm as a volunteer and active community member caught the attention of Oregon City Mayor Denyse McGriff.

“He’s not shy, which is good, because at the first Juneteenth event we had five years ago, we asked him to read part of the Emancipation Proclamation — he didn’t even hesitate,” said McGriff.

Now a freshman at OCHS, Blackwell is involved with local government as well as art and construction classes at school through Clackamas Community College.

“We discovered that we have quite a few things in common, and he says, ‘Now we’re best friends.’ I said, ‘That sounds great!’ He reminds me a lot of my brothers; there’s something very comforting about being friends with him,” said McGriff.

Blackwell said he’ll never forget that the mayor calls him her best friend and is happy he has a friend in City Hall.

“I think I noticed because, being the youngest person in the room, I might say something and have people truly understand what I’m saying,” said Blackwell. “They might think, ‘Oh, he’s just a kid.’ That shouldn’t be your mindset; your mindset should be to understand what others are saying.”

When he’s not helping with the DEI Task Force, Blackwell is focused on school and his art.

“With comic book storytelling, you can truly see the characters start to grow, and superhero storytelling is always about uplifting people and helping people out of tough situations,” said Blackwell. “I think that definitely has inspired me to try and help others, try to understand others and help those who might not have a voice or help those who can’t say what they want to say.”

When the DEI Task Force resumes before this year’s Juneteenth celebration, Blackwell plans to return as the youth committee member. He hopes to bring some of the superhero mindset to the adults in the room.

“Sometimes we need to learn that they have to help everybody,” said Blackwell. “They shouldn’t just help one group of people. They should try and help as many people as they can because what they say, what they do, truly does have an effect.”


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